When Love is Called as a Conspiracy: The ‘Love Jihad’ Bogey Targeting Interfaith Couples in India

Sheeba Aslam Fehmi at an event organized by Dhanak, celebrating couples who married under the Special Marriage Act.

By Mariya Salim
NEW DELHI, India, Sep 27 2021 – When Ali (name changed) proposed to his best friend, little did he know that her parents would take six years to agree to their alliance because he was born into a Muslim family, and they were Hindus.

“Everything they had heard all their life pointed to Muslims being violent, conservative, forceful etc. The idea of me being Muslim and marrying their Hindu daughter was too much to fathom despite them thinking of me highly,” he said in an interview with IPS.

This story is one of the few where the end was ‘happy’, and the family did not bow to societal pressure. However, if one looks at recent propaganda and the increase of Islamophobia in India, one concept which has added fuel to this fire is the fictitious propaganda of ‘Love Jihad’.

Love Jihad is a term propagated by religious fundamentalist groups, alleging a conspiracy by Muslim men to convert non-Muslim girls in the guise of love.

The propagation of this concept is perhaps one reason why Ali had to struggle to convince his wife’s parents that his religion had nothing to do with his love for their daughter.

While it may be easy to counter such a narrative, socially, with more awareness, what has made this term popular and the hate associated with it resulting, in some cases, in violence is the support it has garnered from right-wing political parties and their success at turning such marriages into a criminal offence.

“Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, host hundreds of pages and handles which post unverified incidents as ‘real news’ of Hindu women being deceived by Muslim men into marrying them and ending up either dead or as captives forced to convert and live in the homes of their supposedly violent Muslim husbands,” says Ashwini KP, an academic and rights activist based in Bangalore.

Challenging the provisions of one such draconian state law passed in the state of Gujarat as Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, Advocate Isa Hakim, one of the petitioners’ lawyers, argued: “Amendments (in the Act), read with the discourse around Love Jihad, it is clear that the impugned Act is enacted with nothing but a communal objective and is thereby opposed to the constitutional morality, basic features and fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, 21, 25, and 26 of the Constitution.”

The Gujarat High Court, through an order on August 19, 2021, put a stay on the operation of several sections of the Act, including a provision that termed interfaith marriages as a means for forceful conversion. The order, the court stated, was being passed “to protect the parties solemnising inter-faith marriage from being unnecessarily harassed”. The state government soon after decided to challenge this order in the Supreme Court of India.

Addressing a rally last year in Uttar Pradesh, the chief minister Yogi Adityanath openly proclaimed: “Govt will work to curb ‘Love-Jihad’, we’ll make a law. I warn all those who conceal their identities and play with the respect of our sisters if you do not mend your ways, your ‘Ram naam satya’ journey (a phase associated with people being taken to be cremated) will begin”. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a state whose chief minister makes such open threats, right-wing groups have used love Jihad to stoke communal tensions and rioting. A total of five states in India, where the BJP is in power, have laws based on the conspiracy theory of Love Jihad, without actually using the phrase.

“It is also to undermine the agency of 21st-century Hindu women. We are a society that is afraid of its own daughters, and to keep a check on them prohibiting them from making their own choices, they (current regime) have brought out very Islamophobic and communal legislation under the garb of a safety and security issue for ‘their’ women,” says Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, research scholar and journalist in an exclusive interview with IPS.

Fehmi, also the president of Dhanak, works to protect the couples’ right to choose marriage or relationship partners. The organisation supports couples in inter-faith and inter-caste marriages.

She told IPS they also try to assist interfaith couples with safe houses to ensure they do not become targets of right-wing attacks.

Popular Indian jewellery brand Tanishq withdrew this advert with a depiction of an inter-faith marriage. It said while the campaign was to celebrate diversity it had prompted reactions “contrary to its objective”.

It is perturbing that couples who want to marry under the ‘Special Marriage Act’ (an Act passed by the Indian Parliament allowing interfaith marriages without conversion) have a section, which is now being challenged, where a 30-day notice is publicly displayed, inviting objections, before the marriage is registered.

Shital (name changed), shared with IPS how she received threatening calls from some right-wing groups once she and her Muslim partner decided to register under the Act.

“My Aadhar card (national ID) details were made public on a Facebook group. My parents, who approved of our alliance, received calls where they were threatened with ‘dire consequences’ if they did not stop our marriage,” Shital said. She called the marriage off because of these security concerns.

Asif Iqbal, the co-founder of Dhanak, said in an exclusive interview to IPS that they started the organisation because there was no support system for interfaith couples trying to marry using the Special Marriage Act. The objective was to organise people against religious fanaticism.

“I was made to sit for six hours in a police station in Delhi. The investigating officer was trying to enquire about a possible conspiracy as I was the last person an interfaith couple spoke to before they eloped. The boy was Muslim, and the girl Hindu,” said Iqbal.

The fear of vigilante groups, in the online and in actual physical spaces, is so prevalent that even brands advertising using the idea of inter-faith marriages, particularly where the boy is Muslim, are targeted as promoters of Love Jihad. A recent example was a popular jewellery brand depicting a Hindu woman and a Muslim man getting married. The advert was trolled on social media, that the company removed the advertisement from all forums.

For couples looking to challenge the draconian laws, the only recourse is the courts. However, the worrying feature is that Love Jihad targets Muslims and criminalises its men in a society with frequent incidences of Islamophobia.

 


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Data Drought in the Global South

Young girls in Turkey use their digital devices. Over 30 years after the invention of the world wide web, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has laid out the ways that young people and children should be treated in the digital world, and how their rights should be protected. Credit: UNICEF/Olcer

By Hamid Mehmood
HAMILTON, Ontario, Canada, Sep 27 2021 – In 2020, every human on Earth created an average of at least 1.7 megabytes of data per second, collectively amassing 2.5 quintillion data bytes. Some 90% of the world’s total data was created in the last two years alone.

Globally, companies are undergoing transformations including the use of digital technologies to create new or modify processes, culture and customer experience to meet changing business and market expectations.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated companies’ digital transformations, and by 2022 an estimated 70% of global Gross Domestic Product will have gone through some form of digitization, the result of an estimated $6.8 trillion in investments.

This exponential growth of big data availability is propelling disruptive technologies like those using artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and cloud computing, which all significantly alter how consumers, industries, or businesses operate.

Data-fueled artificial intelligence applications alone are projected to generate additional economic activity of around $13 trillion by 2030. Because of this value generation capability, data is considered the “new oil.”

However, the trend from the last decade shows that, just like oil, the hot spots to generate and create value from data are located just in a selected few countries. We are witnessing the creation of a data-impoverished Global South, which cannot reap the financial benefits or use data to address challenges like massive forest fires, water scarcity, floods, droughts, and other manifestations of the changing climate.

It is alarming that, despite the much talked-about explosion in data generation, critical high quality data for global, regional, and national development is lacking. Major gaps are opening between the data haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, the have-nots include the majority of countries facing challenges like water scarcity, access to clean water, exposure to flood risk, and drought, which require quality data to be generated and processed to create actionable information and knowledge.

Today in the Global South water data collection tends to focus on individual development projects, spawning a patchwork of data sets of short time duration, restricted spatial coverage and limited availability.

This decline is most evident in Africa, where the density of water-data collection networks has been declining over time and falls far below World Meteorological Organization guidelines.

In the last two decades alone, the majority of new stations established to report to WMO’s Global Runoff Data Center are located in “new oil” rich countries. According to the WMO database, gauging stations in North America outnumber those in the 20 most water-stressed countries by more than 10-1. Similar data inequality exists for water-quality and water-related disasters.

In the last decade, remote sensing data coupled with cloud computing has shown promise to address the water-data inequality in the Global South and is successfully used to monitor various parameters of surface water bodies over a period of time.

However, the lack of traceable ground truth observations against which to validate the satellite observations is a key challenge, essentially making the remote sensing data unfit to be used as part of water-related decision support systems. Also, the remote sensing data has failed to accurately quantify parameters like precipitation and river flows where the data gaps are most prominent in the Global South.

In addition to the lack of water data faucets, the uncoordinated and unmonitored data generation efforts in the Global South are leading to the creation of data wastelands, where more than 80% of data created is unstructured and random.

Converting this unstructured data to actionable information is expensive; cleansing and deduplicating a record can cost as much as $10. This poor quality and sparse data also impacts AI and blockchain adoption, essentially shutting out the Global South from the economic activity, social and climate change mitigation benefits these technologies provide.

Given the rise in the severity and frequency of water-related challenges, it is essential to address the data inequality-related issues to achieve the water-related Sustainable Development Goals in this decade.

The solution includes Global North leadership in the new world data order to share their data and information-related technologies with the Global South to help generate quality and actionable data at a global and national scale.

The Global North must also commit to water science capacity building by funding operation monitoring, data rescue and update, and training of water scientists. Given the international nature of emerging water resource issues, the commitment and support of the entire global community is required to reverse the ongoing decline of critical water data sets.

Hamid Mehmood is a Senior Researcher, Hydro-informatics and Information Technology, at the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, which is supported by the Government of Canada and hosted at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. The Institute marks its 25th anniversary in 2021.

 


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Rural Water Boards Play Vital Role for Salvadoran Farmers

Members of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association in the Desvío de Amayo village, La Libertad municipality in central El Salvador, stand at the foot of the tank from which water flows by gravity to the nine villages that benefit from this community project. There are an estimated 2,500 rural water boards in the country, which provide service to 1.6 million people. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Members of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association in the Desvío de Amayo village, La Libertad municipality in central El Salvador, stand at the foot of the tank from which water flows by gravity to the nine villages that benefit from this community project. There are an estimated 2,500 rural water boards in the country, which provide service to 1.6 million people. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador , Sep 27 2021 – After climbing a steep hill along winding paths, you reach a huge water tank at the top that supplies peasant farmer families who had no water and instead set up their own community project on this coastal strip in central El Salvador.

“It wasn’t easy to carry out our project; building the tank was tough because we had to carry the materials up the hill on our shoulders: the gravel, cement, sand and iron,” José Dolores Romero, treasurer of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, told IPS.

The association is located in the village of Desvío de Amayo, in the canton of Cangrejera, part of the municipality and department of La Libertad.

The system, which began operating in 1985, provides water to 468 families in this and eight other nearby villages.

This is what hundreds of rural communities and villages have done to gain access to drinking water, as the government has failed to provide service to every corner of this impoverished nation of 6.7 million people.

Faced with the lack of service, families have organised in “juntas de agua”: rural water boards that are community associations that on their own manage to drill a well and build a tank and the rest of the system.

In El Salvador there are about 2,500 rural water boards, which provide service to 25 percent of the population, or some 1.6 million people, according to data from the non-governmental Foro del Agua (Water Forum), which promotes equitable and participatory water management.

The boards receive no government support, despite the fact that they provide a public service that should fall to the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (Anda).

María Ofelia Pineda, 58, washes a frying pan and other dishes she used to prepare lunch at her home in the village of Las Victorias in Cangrejera on El Salvador's coastal strip. Families like hers benefit from the water provided by the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, which has been operating for 36 years. For seven dollars a month, the residents of this rural town receive 20 cubic metres of water. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

María Ofelia Pineda, 58, washes a frying pan and other dishes she used to prepare lunch at her home in the village of Las Victorias in Cangrejera on El Salvador’s coastal strip. Families like hers benefit from the water provided by the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, which has been operating for 36 years. For seven dollars a month, the residents of this rural town receive 20 cubic metres of water. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A community project

In the village of Desvío de Amayo, located at the centre of the country’s coastal strip, families used to dig their own wells in their backyards, but the water was not potable, and caused health problems as a result.

“It’s true that when you drill a well here you find water, but it isn’t drinkable, and the springs in the coastal area are contaminated with feces,” said Romero, who along with several other members of the water board met with IPS for a tour of the area.

The water in the tank is made potable by adding chlorine, a task carried out by José Hernán Moreno, 66, who described himself as the “valvulero”, responsible for the tank, which has a capacity of 200 cubic metres.

When there is a mishap with one of the pipelines running to one of the communities, it is Moreno who is in charge of closing the necessary valves.

With a quiet chuckle, he recalled that on one occasion he “killed” some fish that a local resident was raising in a pond, hinting that he may have put in more chlorine than he should have.

“They got mad at me, they blamed me, but my duty is to pour in the necessary chlorine,” Moreno said.

The well drilled by the association is 60 metres deep, and the water is pumped four km uphill to the tank from the village using a pump driven by a 20-horsepower engine.

From there, it is gravity-fed to the nine villages it serves.

“We have water all day and all night, and what we pay depends on how much we use,” one of the beneficiaries, Ana María Landaverde, a 62-year-old mother of five, told IPS.

Carlos Enrique Rosales stands in front of the light panel of the community water system. He is in charge of maintaining the well, pump, motor and other parts of the system, located in the Desvío de Amayo village in Cangrejera, in the Salvadoran municipality of La Libertad. The project provides water to 468 families in this and eight other villages, which the government does not supply. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Carlos Enrique Rosales stands in front of the lighting panel of the community water system. He is in charge of maintaining the well, pump, motor and other parts of the system, located in the Desvío de Amayo village in Cangrejera, in the Salvadoran municipality of La Libertad. The project provides water to 468 families in this and eight other villages, which the government does not supply. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family pays seven dollars for 20 cubic metres a month, the equivalent of about 20 barrels or 20,000 gallons. If they consume more than that, they pay 50 cents per cubic metre.

But water was not always available 24 hours a day.

Years ago they received only a couple of hours a day of service because, as there were no metres to measure water consumption, many families wasted water, while others received little.

Some used it to irrigate home gardens and even small fields where they grow corn, beans and other crops.

“Before there was a lot of water waste, that’s why the micro-metres were installed,” said Landaverde. The 20 cubic metres are enough to cover the needs of her family, which now has six members, including several grandchildren.

Since these devices were installed to measure consumption, families have used water more rationally and now there is enough for everyone, 24 hours a day.

“We know that we have to take care of it, with or without metres we have always taken care of it,” Ana Leticia Orantes, 59, told IPS.

She lives in the village of La Ceiba, which is also in Cangrejera. She and one of her sons grow crops like corn, beans, yucca and chili peppers on a 2.7-hectare plot of land.

“This little piece of land gives us enough to live on,” she said.

However, not everyone was happy when the metres were installed. People who were using it irrationally, to irrigate crops for example, were furious, said Romero, the treasurer.

“We had serious problems because they were used to wasting water and suddenly we restricted their water use with the metres, measuring consumption,” he said. “I made a lot of enemies, they almost killed me.”

With the money received for the water service, the association has managed to become self-sustainable, and has the necessary financial resources to pay for repairs and equipment maintenance.

This is important because the system has been operating for 36 years and, as with a car, breakdowns can happen at any time.

The well of the community water system in Cangrejera, in central El Salvador, is 60 metres deep, and a 20-horsepower motor drives the pump that directs the liquid to a tank four kilometres uphill. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The well of the community water system in Cangrejera, in central El Salvador, is 60 metres deep, and a 20-horsepower motor drives the pump that directs the liquid to a tank four kilometres uphill. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Strength through unity

The Cangrejera project initiative is part of the Association of Autonomous Drinking Water and Sanitation Systems (Asaps), a group of 15 water boards located in four municipalities in the department of La Libertad.

The four municipalities are La Libertad, Huizúcar, Villa Nueva and Santa Tecla. The idea is to support each other when technical or other problems arise.

“There are problems that we can’t solve on our own, we need other people to lend us a hand,” said Romero.

Asaps is also part of a cooperative in which two other community water associations participate, one located in Suchitoto, in the department of Cuscatlán, in the centre of the country, and another in Chalatenango, in the north.

The aim is that through the cooperative, materials and equipment can be acquired at a lower cost than if the associations were to purchase them on their own.

The boards are also part of the Water Forum, a nationwide citizens’ organisation that, among other questions, is pushing for a water law in the country to achieve equitable and sustainable use.

The draft law has been debated in the legislature for more than a decade, but it has stalled over the issue of who should control the governing body: whether only state agencies or representatives of the business community should be included as well.

The latter would include members of the powerful industry of producers of carbonated beverages, juices, beer and bottled water.

The government of Nayib Bukele, in power since June 2019, introduced a new proposal in the legislature last June, and has enough votes to pass it: the 56 out of 84 seats held by the ruling party, New Ideas.

Social organisations and the water boards themselves see the government proposal as a sort of veiled privatisation, since one of the articles grants exploitation rights to private entities for 473,043 cubic metres per year, for periods ranging from 10 to 15 years.

Experts say this amount could supply an entire town.

“How much profit will those barbarians who bottle and sell it make from the water?” complained Romero.

The water boards are demanding to be included in the government proposal, arguing that they play an important role in providing a service not offered by the State.

“We are doing a job that should fall to the government, and what does it give us in return? Nothing,” he added.

María Ofelia Pineda, a 58-year-old native of the village of Las Victorias, also in Cangrejera, said the service received from the community water system changed their lives forever.

“It’s a great thing to have the water right here in the house, we don’t have to go to the river anymore. When it rained we couldn’t go, we were in danger because of the floods,” she told IPS, while washing a frying pan and other dishes she used to make lunch.

Scientific Panel’s Scoping Report Instructive for Global Food Systems Transformation

By Alison Kentish
DOMINICA, Sep 24 2021 – On September 10th, on a sweltering summer afternoon, three fishers drove a van around the residential community of Castle Comfort in Dominica, blowing forcefully into their conch shells – the traditional call that there is fresh fish for sale in the area.

One of the men, Andrew Joseph, urged a customer to double her purchase of Yellowfin Tuna, stating that at five Eastern Caribbean dollars a pound (US$1.85), she was getting the deal of the summer. (In the lean season, that price can double).

“It’s good fish, it’s fresh, it’s cheap,” he told IPS, adding that, “People eat too much meat. This is what is good for the body and the brain.”

Little did he know that he was echoing the words of a scientist who is rallying the world, and the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) to put greater emphasis on the financial, nutritional and traditional benefits of aquatic foods.

“Foods coming from marine sources, inland sources, food from water, they are superfood, but this is being ignored in the global debate and at the country level, because we have had a focus on land production systems and we have to change that,” Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at World Fish told IPS.

The nutrition scientist is also the Vice-Chair of Action Track 4, Advancing Equitable Livelihoods, at the UNFSS.

As the landmark summit hopes to deliver urgent change in the way the world thinks about, produces and consumes food, issues like the linkages between aquatic systems and health are emerging.

So are other linkages a scoping report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says the world cannot ignore. The report, approved in June, paves the way for a 3-year assessment of the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health.

In the case of the UNFSS, it shows how food systems transformation can be achieved if tackled as one part of this network.

“It will assess the state of knowledge, including indigenous and local knowledge, on past, present, and possible future trends in these interlinkages, with a focus on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people,” IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie told IPS.

“The IPBES nexus assessment will contribute to the development of a strengthened knowledge base for policymakers for the simultaneous implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Landscape Ecology Professor Ralf Seppelt was one of the scoping experts for the nexus assessment. He says the science is clear on how food systems impact biodiversity and why agroecology must be a pillar of efforts to transform food systems.

“Micronutrients are lacking a lot. Micronutrients are provided by fruits and vegetables, which need pollination. So, the nexus is really strong between agroecological principles and the nutritional value of what we are producing,” he told IPS.

“Wherever we have to increase production, we should do it on agroecological principles. We should consider what farmers say and do, their needs, their access to production goods such as fertilizers and seeds, and it’s equally important to change our diets. It’s not just reducing harvest losses and food waste, but also about moving away from energy-rich, meat-based diets and feeding ourselves in an environmentally friendly way,” he said.

Professor Seppelt is also hoping that the voices of small farmers and indigenous communities are amplified in the global food transformation conversation. “IPBES made an enormous effort to work with indigenous peoples and local communities and include indigenous and local knowledge in its reports. We organized workshops, to collect a diversity of views about nature and its contributions to people, or ecosystem services to make the assessment as relevant as possible to a range of users,” he said.

For Thilsted, any plan to revamp food systems must come with a commitment to weed out inequality. She says from access to inputs and production to consumption and waste, inequality remains a problem.

“This unequal distribution of who wins, who loses, who does well, who does not do too well, who profits and who does not is putting a strain on food and nutrition and it is limiting our progress towards a sustainable development future,” she told IPS.

“COVID-19 has shown the fragility of the system and it is further displacing the vulnerable, for example, women and children who are being more exposed to food and nutrition insecurity.”

The IPBES nexus assessment hopes to better inform policymakers on these key issues.

It is not the first assessment of interlinkages. Earlier this year IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a landmark workshop report that focused on tackling the climate and biodiversity crises as one.

Now, the current nexus assessment on interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health will explore options for sustainable approaches to water, climate change, adaptation and mitigation, food and health systems.

IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie says it also shows that there is hope for restoring the balance of nature.

“I would like people to remember and know that they are a part of nature, that the solutions for our common future are in nature; that nature can be conserved and restored to allow us, human beings, to simultaneously meet all our development goals. We can do this if we work together, act more based on equity, social and environmental justice, reflect on our values systems, and on our visions of what a good life actually is.”

 


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With the World Bank’s “Doing Business” Out of Business, What Should Come Next?

By Ian Richards
GENEVA, Sep 24 2021 – Last week the World Bank announced it was “discontinuing” its “Doing Business” report, which ranks countries on the ease of opening and operating a company.

It cited the outcome of an investigation that found the World Bank had changed the rankings under pressure of funding. This wasn’t the first time the rankings had come in for criticism. A 2008 internal evaluation report highlighted their lack of transparency, while in 2018 the Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, resigned decrying data manipulation.

In truth, the rankings had for some time faced a credibility issue. My colleagues and I saw this first hand. And there were a number of reasons for it.

Firstly, Doing Business had become too politicised. It was originally intended as a way to measure improvements in countries’ business environments. It used an index score based on the number of procedures and time to for example start a business or get a construction permit – there were ten indicators.

However, the Bank also used it to rank countries, fêting top scorers and reformers. Governments soon saw a good ranking as an end in itself, regardless of how it impacted their development. A slip in rank could be politically damaging.

The rankings ostensibly promised a rigorous evaluation of each country’s business environment. Yet with a small team in Washington DC operating in what the investigation described as a toxic environment, much of the work evaluating the ten indicators in 190 countries was farmed out to national volunteer panels, who were asked to amend or approve pre-filled questionnaires.

Credit: World Bank

Not all were experts on the matter and some did not even work in the country. Many we spoke to barely gave the questionnaire a glance before signing off. Further, the English questionnaires posed challenges in countries where the language isn’t commonly spoken.

The result was that governments didn’t always see their hard work reflected in the rankings, leading to lobbying campaigns that, perhaps unsurprisingly, favoured those with greater weight and not always in the right way.

Some governments complained that their score changed for little reason, and in the case of Chile, according to the party in power. The untransparent nature of the changes contrasts for example with UNCTAD’s Global Enterprise Registration index, which specifically invites input from the public.

The investigation confirmed a perception that rankings were helped by paying the World Bank to advise on reforms instead of turning to development institutions such as UNCTAD or UNDP.
It noted that, “the vast majority of Bank employees that we spoke to raised the issue of the inherent conflict of interest that advisory services create.”

The methodology also had its flaws. It did little to distinguish between good procedures, such as ensuring compliance with environmental rules, and unnecessary red tape, such as requiring yet another stamped and notarised copy of a document.

And while reforms to the business environment can be measured in the number of days and procedures saved, it didn’t measure their impact.

For example, at the start of Covid we helped Benin move the process of creating a business online, meaning it could be done from a mobile phone instead of spending days queuing at government offices in the tropical sun. It also cut total time to two hours. But it didn’t end there.

As a result of the changes, which made life easier for those short on time or far from the capital, the number of companies created increased by 43 percent, half started by under-30s, half in rural areas and a third owned by women. This impact, more than a simple ranking, should be the real cause for celebration.

So, what happens next? The Bank’s board has said it will “be working on a new approach to assessing the business and investment climate.” What could this look like, how can it encourage real development, how can it be depoliticised, and is it still relevant?

Doing Business is meant to promote development by making it easier for the private sector to operate.

Therefore, it shouldn’t just measure if reforms make procedures easier on paper, but if they’re actually leading to more companies being created, and if so where and by whom? In other words, is there a real development impact?

It should also measure if procedures are clearly understood. Because lack of clarity on which paperwork to prepare, where to go, how much to pay and what to expect often discourages business owners from registering, perpetuating the informal economy. Hanoi municipality in Vietnam shows how this can be done well.

The team should be sufficiently staffed to operate without an extensive reliance on volunteers, and any desk analysis should be double-checked with field visits to government offices, backed by surveys of private companies.

The team’s independence could be protected by a committee with membership from other development organisations. That committee would oversee the elaboration of each report. It would also hear appeals from governments who feel that the index does not correctly capture their situation.

The construction of the index should be published online, including the data collected, decisions on outliers and any other assumptions, such that a member of the public with adequate statistical expertise could reasonably generate the same results.

For transparency’s sake, the consideration of appeals by governments should also be published.

The index should be less political. This means no rankings. Reforms aren’t a race, and quality trumps quantity. An improved business environment is a means to an end but not an end in itself.

The final question though is whether such an index is still needed at a time when many governments, pushed by Covid and the demands of younger entrepreneurs, are shifting their administrative procedures online.

Earlier this year, Bhutan made it possible for small business owners to register their companies through a government website and receive automatically-generated legal documents by email in seconds.

As more governments adopt that same platform and technology, countries will soon be separated by hours or minutes rather than weeks and days. Procedures will be reduced to a single step.

Under this scenario, it is not clear that there will be anything left for Doing Business to measure.

Ian Richards, a development economist at the UN, helps governments improve their business environments and attract investment.

 


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Replacing Monopolies with Impact Rewards

Impact funds align profits with human needs, making the business of innovation much more equitable in terms of research priorities and access to its fruits: innovators do well by doing good. By guiding innovators to organize their R&D and marketing holistically toward achieving the most cost-effective social gains, impact funds enable a triple win: for the potential beneficiaries of innovations, for the innovators and also for governments and taxpayers.

Image by SilvanaGodoy from Pixabay

By Thomas Pogge
Sep 24 2021 – Impact Funds would make the business of innovation more cost-effective and enable a triple win for the potential beneficiaries of innovations.

Globalized in 1995 through the TRIPS Agreement, humanity’s dominant mechanism for encouraging innovations involves 20-year product patents. Such temporary monopolies give innovators exclusive rights over production and sale of their innovation, thereby enabling them to collect large markups from early users.

The resulting high prices impede diffusion of innovations during their patent period. Coal-fired power plants in India were built without the latest “ultrasupercritical” green technology because its use would have required some $1.5 million per boiler in licensing fees. An excellent cure for hepatitis-C, sofosbuvir, was introduced in 2013 at a price of $84,000, about 3000x manufacturing cost. It has since reached only 5 million patients worldwide; the other 66 million remain infected and continue to spread the disease. During their long patent period, innovations produce a mere fraction of the social value they could produce if competitively priced.

Impact funds would bring revolutionary change. Where monopoly rewards turn innovators into jealous spies in search of possible infringers, impact rewards would encourage innovators actively to promote their registered innovation’s fast, wide and impactful diffusion

This access problem can be avoided by creating publicly financed impact funds that would reward innovations sold at competitive prices according to the social benefits achieved with them. As with the patent system, the fixed cost of innovation would largely fall on those who can afford it. Yet there would be no need to exclude the rest. With socially valued innovations rewarded from public funds, everyone can have access to them without monopoly markups.

Impact rewards can work in any domain where a uniform metric of social value can be formulated, such as health gains for pharmaceuticals, pollution reduction for green technologies, expertise and employment for education, nutrient yield and reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture. Such a system would work best if many states jointly supported it, thereby greatly increasing its social value while diluting its cost.

The pharma sector is a good domain for exploring this idea. Its innovations protect and promote health, an appropriate purpose for public funding. Let us imagine then a Health Impact Fund that, supported by many countries, invites innovators to register any of their new pharmaceuticals for participation in ten consecutive annual payouts, each split among registered products according to health gains achieved in the preceding year.

With these rewards enabling innovators to recoup their R&D expenses and to make appropriate profits, registrants would have to accept competitive pricing during the reward period and also to waive any remaining monopoly privileges thereafter. In non-contributing affluent countries, however, registrants should remain free to charge monopoly prices. This exception would attract registrations by reducing their opportunity cost and would also give affluent countries more reason to join the funding coalition.

Some variant of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), as widely employed and refined in recent decades, could be used as a common metric for comparing and aggregating health gains across diverse diseases, therapies, demographic groups, lifestyles and cultures. To reassure funders and/or innovators, a maximum and/or minimum reward per QALY could be specified.

Assuming an initial contribution rate of 0.02% of gross national income and one-third weighted participation by states, the Health Impact Fund could get started with annual pools of $6 billion — less than 1% of the $800 billion the world currently spends each year on branded pharmaceuticals. States’ contributions would be offset by savings on (a) registered pharmaceuticals and (b) other health care costs, as well as by gains in (c) economic productivity and (d) consequent tax revenues.

With annual pools of $6 billion, each registered pharmaceutical would participate in $60 billion worth of disbursements over its ten-year reward period. A commercial innovator would register a product only if it expected to make a profit on top of recouping its R&D expenses. There is some debate over what these fixed costs of innovation amount to. The number of products registered with the Health Impact Fund would throw light on this question because of the Fund’s self-adjusting reward rate. Were it to attract roughly twenty products, with two entering and two exiting in a typical year, this would show that the prospect of $3 billion over ten years is seen as satisfactory — neither windfall nor hardship. This self-adjustment feature reassures innovators/contributors that the reward rate will not fall/rise to an unreasonable level.

The Health Impact Fund demonstrates that we can incentivize innovations in a way that avoids the severe access barriers of monopoly patents. These barriers therefore constitute an immense human rights violation. As illustrated by the hepatitis-C case, millions suffer and die each year because generic manufacturers are forbidden to sell them the medicines they need at competitive prices. Millions more suffer and die because high markups impede the diffusion of green technologies in poorer countries.

Impact funds would bring revolutionary change. Where monopoly rewards turn innovators into jealous spies in search of possible infringers, impact rewards would encourage innovators actively to promote their registered innovation’s fast, wide and impactful diffusion. Registrants would even subsidize it to poor buyers insofar as the increase in rewardable impact justifies the cost of the subsidy.

Impact funds would secure additional gains for human rights as well. Where patent rewards fail to incentivize innovations that meet needs specific to the poor, impact funds would encourage such innovations by assessing impact regardless of the economic position of the beneficiaries. Thus, pharmaceutical innovators could profitably develop and deploy good new treatments for the now notoriously neglected tropical diseases, which afflict over a billion people, and for other major diseases concentrated among the poor, like tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and pneumonia, which together kill some seven million people annually.

While patent rewards are largely indifferent to an innovation’s third-party effects, impact funds would take them fully into account. Thus, the Health Impact Fund would reward containment of a disease with a new medicine for having protected from infection people who never took the medicine. An innovator rewarded through monopoly markups, by contrast, is rewarded only insofar as its medicine fails to contain its target disease. By eradicating a disease, such an innovator would destroy its own future market.

Patent rewards tempt innovators in various ways to “put profits over people.” Impact funds align profits with human needs, making the business of innovation much more equitable in terms of research priorities and access to its fruits: innovators do well by doing good. By guiding innovators to organize their R&D and marketing holistically toward achieving the most cost-effective social gains, impact funds enable a triple win: for the potential beneficiaries of innovations, for the innovators and also for governments and taxpayers.

Thomas Pogge is the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs and director of the Global Justice Program at Yale. He co-founded Academics Stand Against Poverty and Incentives for Global Health.

This article was originally published by OpenGlobalRights

‘Building Back Better’: Jordan’s Road to Green Economic Recovery

Solar water heaters on top of buildings are found across Jordan. The country has embarked upon a climate-responsive economy recovery and a new growth trajectory strategy. Photo Credit: NDC Partnership

By Sania Farooqui
NEW DELHI, India, Sep 24 2021 – For the first time in decades, Jordan’s economy contracted in 2020. COVID-19 took a heavy toll on the economy, and it was concerning for the country, particularly because Jordan had managed to grow at an average rate of 2%, despite regional and international shocks to its economy amounting to 44% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past decade.

In 2020 GDP contracted 3.5% YOY, with a projected rebound towards the middle of 2021. The unemployment rate in Jordan increased to 22.7% of the labor force in 2020 from 19.1% a year earlier. It is the highest jobless rate since at least 2005.

The Government of Jordan (GoJ), in light of COVID-19, has taken steps to respond to both the health and economic risks associated with the pandemic. Both are said to be of concern because some of the pandemic restrictions continue to extend into 2021, and economic recovery could be stalled.

One of the key solutions that Jordan has readily embarked on is a climate-responsive recovery and a new growth trajectory strategy. Jordan’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement on climate change is one of the key platforms through which it hopes to achieve its green development measures.

“Jordan’s climate-responsive and green economy framework focuses on several key sectors: water, waste management, energy, agriculture, tourism, and transport, in addition to health as a key adaptation sector,” says Lamia S. Al-Zoa’bi, Director of Development Plans and Programs in Jordan’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC) in an interview given to IPS News.

“In Jordan, the focus is on a climate-responsive, green recovery that can create jobs and economic transformation (JET), through a focus on public/private investments and climate finance,” says Al-Zoa’bi.

The climate action planning adopted a comprehensive set of strategic climate responses, including Jordan’s initial Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) in 2015, followed by its first NDC in 2016. Building on these efforts, and in collaboration with national and internal stakeholders, the country launched its NDC Action Plan with priority projects in 2020, with support from the NDC Partnership.

The Ministry of Environment, with support from the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), launched the Green Growth National Action Place (GG-NAPs) 2021-2025, which are mainly medium-term implementation plans. A majority of actions in the GG-NAPs are climate responsive and aligned with NDCs, which have a longer time frame for implementation until 2030. Through the Partnership’s Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP), Jordan conducted a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) for 35 priority climate actions contributing to the implementation of Jordan’s NDC as previously identified by Sectoral Working Groups jointly with a climate finance strategy.

Earlier in June 2021, The World Bank Group approved a US$500 million program to catalyze public and private investments in Jordan for a green and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this statement, World Bank Group’s Mashreq Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha says, “Jordan has been one of the most active and pioneering countries in the region in ratifying and adopting international climate change initiatives, including the Paris Agreement. Jordan can now capitalize on these efforts to become an attractive destination for green and climate-related investments.”

The Inclusive, Transparent and Climate Responsive Investments is part of the US$1.1 billion recently announced for Program-for-Results (PforR), through combined loans and grants, financing support from the World Bank Group and other international partners to support Jordan in responding to the pandemic and promoting an early, climate-resilient, and inclusive recovery.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Mediterranean region, which is home to several countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), has been described as a ‘climate change hotspot’. According to the National Climate Change Adaptation Plan, climate-related hazards, such as extreme temperature droughts, flash floods, and storms, affect Jordan. These hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity over the years due to climate change.

Jordan, however, positioned itself well ahead in tackling these issues by advancing its climate policy framework under the Paris Agreement, which it ratified in 2016. Jordan was amongst the first countries to launch a Climate Change Policy in 2013 and has consistently issued its national communications under the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC).

Ahead of COP26, Jordan is updating its NDC, building on a prioritization exercise conducted in 2020 in five key sectors as part of its engagement with the NDC Partnership. “The NDC Action Plan seeks to scale renewables and energy-efficient measures, adapt water, agriculture and health sectors to climate impacts, and strengthen the resilience of disadvantaged groups and vulnerable ecosystems,” says Al-Zoa’bi.

So far, cost-benefit analysis (CBA) for reducing GHG emissions and potential climate impacts have been conducted for 35 prioritized NDC actions.

“Generating new jobs while maintaining social protection is one of the main short-to-medium-term priorities, given the record unemployment that comprises almost 25% of the labor force. While existing jobs are under pressure from the tourism sector fallout, the path to recovery in international arrivals is uncertain. Increasing tax revenue is an important outcome, as both current and projected fiscal deficit levels require new sources of tax income. All of these are seen to be drivers for green recovery in Jordan,” Al-Zoa’bi says.

Jordan’s green growth pathway aims to provide substantial benefits for the country’s economy, people, and environment. This includes plans for reducing dependency on fuel imports through transformations in the transport sector. This helps to mitigate uncertain and exogenous economic shocks arising from volatility in fossil fuel prices and physical interruption supplies.

According to the Jordan Sustainable Consumption and Production National Action Plan 2016-2025, the combination of green growth and sustainable consumption and production efforts in energy, transport, water, agriculture, waste, and tourism has the potential to attract sustainable green investments amounting to 1.3 billion U.S dollars and create 51,000 new jobs over ten years.

“Jordan is updating its first NDC by raising its macroeconomic GHG emission reduction target, this forthcoming updated NDC with higher climate ambition aims at driving Jordan’s post-COVID-19 recovery process into a lower carbon and more climate-resilient development pathway steered by national green growth priorities while fully committing to the provisions of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement,” concludes Al-Zoa’bi.

 


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On the Verge of Change

Combines harvesting durum wheat in Enchant, Alberta, Canada. GPS-programmed, they are already driverless except for going around corners, August 2021. Credit: Trevor Page

By Marwa Awad
OTTAWA, Canada, Sep 23 2021 – Current food systems are no longer fit for the 21st century. Inequitable distribution, poor nutritional habits, and climate change are three issues breaking down our global food systems today, forcing us to look for solutions to transform them. Food aid – very much part of our global food systems – needs to be responsive to the challenges that lie ahead.

The World Bank estimates that the global food system is worth roughly $8 trillion – about one tenth of the entire world economy, yet this expensive system fails to provide proper nutrition and enough food. According to the World Food Programme, the problem lies in poor distribution of nutritious food. Although there is enough food in the world to feed every single person, close to one billion go to bed hungry each night, while 2 billion people are overweight.

“What we have today is a food system that doesn’t provide everyone with the nutrition they need. Yet it wreaks havoc on the environment and consequently is a huge contributor to today’s climate crisis,” said WFP’s Deputy Executive Director, Amir Abdulla.

According to FAO, in 2017, farming alone accounted for 68 per cent of rural income in Africa, and about half of rural income in South Asia. With the climate crisis already on us and Covid-19 pandemic disrupting all human activity across all sectors, transforming global food systems is paramount to withstanding these shocks.

Mal/nutrition

The diet culture and weight-loss industry are booming in many parts of the world. As much as this reflects the concentration of the global food supply in the hands of rich economies, it also points to the lack of nutritional quality and diversity in what people choose to eat.

According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, one in every nine people globally is either hungry or undernourished while one in every three people globally are either overweight or obese. In fact, overweight and obesity are increasing rapidly in nearly every country in the world, with no signs of slowing, the report says.

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of all children under 5 years of age are stunted. The disparities between the haves and the have nots are striking. While wealthier countries suffer from obesity and overweight rates five times higher than in poorer countries, underweight can be ten times higher than in the poorest countries than richer ones.

Colleting her WFP ration from an NGO centre in Bangladesh. Vulnerable group feeding, with development aspects progressively added, has provided a safety net for millions of poor, malnourished Bangladeshis for decades. Credit: Trevor Page

Reforming food and health systems globally is urgently needed to address inequalities in distributions by making healthy, nutritious foods the most affordable option for all.

The economic argument for this reform is compelling. The 2020 Global Nutrition Report states: “Malnutrition costs the world billions of dollars a year in lost opportunities for economic growth.” Ensuring equitable access will allow more than 800 million people to enter the labour market and support the economic development of their countries and around the world.

“We have to be able to continue levels of production, probably change what we are producing, where we are producing it and how we are producing it, and then find a set of systems that allow equitable distribution so that people have access to the nutritious food that they need,” said Abdulla.

The World Food Programme, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, understands fragile, broken, or distorted food systems, because it’s the core of the organization’s work. With an unparalleled six decades of experience repairing, sustaining, and improving food systems for the world’s most vulnerable and isolated communities, WFP is the best positioned food assistance agency with the knowledge and expertise to work with stakeholders to turn things around.

For food systems to work and provide answers to the challenges of the 21st century, they must be designed at the core to allow for equitable food distribution, which is not an easy task, says Abdulla: “This has potential social undertones which would worry some people, but you need to have series of mechanisms that permit equitable distribution.”

Food Aid and nourishing our world

If we already produce more than we need but we are not necessarily producing the right food in the right place, then how can we obtain food security in the interim while working on the vital paradigm shift. Increasing income, so that everyone at the household level can buy enough food to keep themselves fit and healthy is the key to food security.

At the national level, countries must either be able to produce all the food that their citizens need or buy it from those countries that produce a surplus. Until that happens, food assistance programmes in food insecure areas will remain a necessity.

Meanwhile, our capacity to feed ourselves has made immense progress over the past 50 years, yet viewed globally our food systems are inequitable, undermine public health, and have an enormous impact on our natural environment.

WFP estimates that the number of acutely food insecure people has increased by 80% – from 149 million pre-COVID, to more than 270 million today. The pandemic is placing significant stress on food systems, especially in lower-and-middle income countries, and fragile states where food systems are already flawed or disrupted.

In 2020, WFP reached 115.5 million vulnerable and food insecure people in 84 countries, delivering food and other assistance through a fleet of 30 ships, 100 planes and more than 5,000 trucks. Besides providing immediate relief, WFP has been paving the way for more equitable food systems through protecting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers around the world by helping them increase their agricultural productivity and reduce post-harvest losses, increase their access to agricultural inputs, assets, services, and markets while simultaneously improving their resilience to climate and other shocks.

WFP emergency relief supplies for the survivors of the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami arriving at small ports on Indonesia’s Aceh coast. Credit: Trevor Page

As for food supply chains and markets, WFP utilizes its supply chain and procurement expertise to support governments and private sector stakeholders to strengthen markets, facilitate the movement of food and its availability. In the second half of 2020, WFP purchased over 550,000 MT of food from local food systems, that is over USD 268 million injected into those food systems. The volume of food purchased represents an increase of 33% when compared with the same period of 2019.

The world will not attain the goal of Zero Hunger by 2030, as the leaders of nation states and multilateral organizations have reluctantly accepted. Zero Hunger, along with the other SDGs that will not be attained by 2030 are all interconnected. While the SDGs must remain our goals, we need to find better ways of attaining them. Food is the most basic of our needs. Hopefully, we are on the verge of changing the existing food systems, so that progressively, fewer of us around the world will go to bed hungry.

Marwa Awad, a resident of Ottawa, Canada, works for the World Food Programme. She is the co-host of The WFP PEOPLE Show.

 


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How Transforming Food Systems Could Unlock a $12 Trillion Global Windfall

By Agnes Kalibata
NEW YORK, Sep 23 2021 – With the world still counting the social and economic costs of the Covid-19 pandemic, amid a fresh “code red” on the climate crisis, food may not seem like the most pressing threat to humanity.

Yet transforming entire food systems around the world offers the solution to the $12 trillion challenge many have not yet realised we are facing.

The existential threats that appear to be looming on the horizon are in fact already silently costing the world in poor health, environmental losses and stifled economic growth, a toll that could reach $16 trillion by 2050.

Rethinking the whole food systems value chain from the way food is produced to how it is marketed and sold, and how waste is processed, has the potential not only to save these hidden costs but to safeguard the very sustainability of people and planet.

The caveat is that this transformation at every point in the process, from sowing and harvesting to cooking and composting, will not be easy or straightforward. Choices made at the farm and business level to the technologies we advance in science and policies we make in governance come with trade-offs and risks.

But the rewards on offer – on every front and for every country worldwide – go beyond dollar figures to tangible improvements for lives, livelihoods and the natural world.

To start with, improving the productivity and efficiency of food systems can support a strong and equitable economic recovery from the pandemic, and lay the foundations for a more prosperous future.

In low-income countries, for example, the biggest losses currently come just after harvest, when farmers struggle to extend the shelf life of their crops and produce long enough to reach market for a lack refrigeration or appropriate storage.

Meanwhile, in high-income countries, food is more often wasted by consumers who buy more than they need.

Reducing these losses would cost an estimated $30 billion, according to the Food and Land Use Coalition, but the potential return could be as much as $455 billion in savings and new opportunities. It could also reduce eight per cent from current global emission levels.

Investments into stronger local value chains, allowing farmers to get more food to market and consumers to buy only what they need, can help improve livelihoods for those in agricultural sectors while also improving access to nutritious food, reducing the hidden cost of diet-related illnesses and educating consumers on the environmental cost of their choices.

Such efforts were among the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit at the end of July, when Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, announced a common position for Africa ahead of the Summit. At the heart of this shared agenda was a commitment to bolster local markets and supply chains and increase agricultural financing to 10 per cent of public expenditure.

Transforming food systems from production to consumption and disposal can also support the “Net-Zero” goals adopted by a growing number of countries.

With food systems collectively contributing around a third of emissions, wholesale nature-positive changes can help countries meet their Paris Agreement targets and reduce biodiversity loss.

And there are opportunities to invest in more sustainable food systems across the board, from innovations that reduce emissions associated with livestock through better health and nutrition, to using clean energy in food processing, transporting and packaging, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of food system emissions.

These solutions will be promoted by countries and partners leading global initiatives and coalitions that cut across the interconnected challenges of climate change and hunger to increase both resilience and sustainability.

Finally, investing in healthier and functional food systems would also unlock better public health, saving the global cost and burden of hunger, malnutrition and illnesses linked to poor diets, such as diabetes.

This starts with developing food systems that prioritise food safety and hygiene, including reducing the spread of foodborne illness, which alone costs low and middle-income countries an estimated $110 billion a year in lost productivity and medical expenses.

Such a shift would require investments on the supply side, to scale-up and incentivise production of adequate, accessible and healthy food, and investments into educating consumers to make better informed dietary choices.

The prize of successfully transforming global food systems is not just the $12 trillion saving in hidden costs, but the very survival of the world as we know it.

To date, the UN Food Systems Summit has generated dozens of game-changing initiatives to help countries realise the full potential of functional and sustainable food systems, and we have already seen almost 70 countries incorporate them into national pathways that address their unique circumstances and challenges with many more to come at the Summit.

We are fast approaching the crucial moment for more governments and their publics to throw their weight behind these solutions and commit to flagship initiatives that will bring to bear the promise of a healthier, inclusive and resilient future. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

 


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Excerpt:

The writer is UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

How Satellite Technologies Can Aid Fiji, Other Pacific Island Nations to Build Climate Resilience

Sepesa Curuki and his daughter Lupe. The family is heartbroken about leaving their ancestral lands but their home is no longer safe after being battered by intense and frequent cyclones, flooding and erosion. Credit: Sepesa Curuki

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, Australia, Sep 23 2021 – Sepesa Curuki and his community are coming to terms with the prospect of relocation from Cogea village on Fiji’s second-largest island of Vanua Levu. Their village, which lies between two rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean only 2km away, has been battered by intense and frequent cyclones, flooding and erosion, threatening their very existence.

“We are heartbroken to be having to leave our ancestral land, but to survive, we must relocate to a safe place,” the 36-year-old school teacher tells IPS on a scratchy phone line, reverberating with the background sound of pelting rain.

“Our close-knit community of 72 people has experienced three severe tropical cyclones in one year. TC Harold in April 2020 and TC Ana in January 2021 caused extreme flooding, and TC Yasa in December 2020 completely consumed 23 of the 37 houses in the village. Not even a single post was left standing. The remaining homes, including ours, experienced widespread destruction,” says Curuki, who now lives with his wife, mother, two brothers and four children in a two-bedroom concrete home and a tent.

Fiji accounts for 0.006 percent of global carbon emissions, and it became the first country to ratify the 2015 Paris Agreement. But it, along with its other low-lying Pacific Island neighbours, is experiencing the catastrophic effects of climate change unfolding in a fast forward mode.

“Heavy rainfall has been triggering landslides and causing the riverbank to burst, flooding and severely damaging the crops – our only source of livelihood. In my life span, I have never seen anything like the destruction caused by TC Yasa. Most of the villagers are now living in tents scattered around the silt-covered remnants of what was once a thriving village with farms green with root crops,” says Curuki’s 63-year-old mother, Timaima, on the speakerphone as she chops cassava (tavioka) and dalo (taro) for lunch.

A quarter of Pacific Islands people live within 1 km of the coast. With the next cyclone season looming, the people of Cogea are awaiting relocation as a matter of urgency.

Sepesa Curuki’s mother Timaima and his daughter Lupe prepare dinner. Credit: Sepesa Curuki

Fiji had released its relocation guidelines in 2019, which stated that “planned relocation represents an option of last resort”. Human mobility is established as a priority human security and national security issue in the country’s National Climate Change Policy 2018-2030. The government has established the Climate Relocation of Communities Trust Fund (CRCTF) to relocate communities forced to move to safe areas by climate change-induced rising seas and extreme weather.

To improve evidence-based decision making in disaster preparedness and response and access to climate change adaptation and mitigation finance, the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) CommonSensing supports Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to use satellite remote sensing-based earth observation (EO) data.

The project is being implemented by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) through its UN Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) with a consortium of partners, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, which is spearheading the access to climate finance component of the project.

“We provide technical assistance to Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH), working towards using the geospatial-based CommonSensing platform to make better, more robust proposals for accessing climate finance, and support long-term decision-making,” says UnniKrishnan Nair, Head of Climate Change Section at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

“CommonSensing uses satellite data for calculating baseline conditions and for measuring the climate-related changes over time in aspects, such as deforestation, sea-level rise, flooding, land degradation, fisheries, coastal protection and food security. This concrete evidence-based data, which shows the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities and what can make them more resilient, makes the rationale for funding much stronger,” Nair tells IPS.

Of the international climate finance available, only three percent went to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in 2017-18. A report compiled by the Fijian Government and the World Bank said Fiji would need to spend $4.5 billion over the next ten years on measures to adapt to climate change.

To support the development of climate change project proposals, capacity-building and project implementation, the CCFAH embeds Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers (CNCFA) in government departments of these countries.

Sepesa Curuki at his home in Cogea Village in Fiji. The impact of climate change has meant the village is no longer safe for this teacher and his family.

“The EO tools can help SIDS to develop and implement green stimulus measures and also in the process of revising and implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as the ability to access climate finance effectively becomes increasingly relevant,” Katherine Cooke, CNCFA for Fiji, tells IPS.

“We have recently conducted Climate Finance ‘Writeshop’ training for government officials and stakeholders in Fiji in the use of CommonSensing data to meet the complex requirements of climate finance applications. It focused on three project proposals: Fiji Rural Electrification Fund – Mitigation; Climate Change Relocation – Adaptation; and Decarbonization of public bus transport in Fiji – Mitigation,” Cooke adds.

EO technologies and data in enabling better access to climate finance is still in its early stages. It is currently being trialled for Disaster Risk Reduction and Response and Adaptation.

As UNITAR-UNOSAT Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expert, Leba Gaunavinaka, who is embedded with Fiji’s Ministry of Economy, tells IPS: “In the event of natural disasters and the three recent Tropical Cyclones that hit Fiji, the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) activates their National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) and divisional EOCs coordinating response. We join them with other governmental representatives as part of the joint task force UNOSAT provides satellite imageries and GIS support to the team engaged with planning and deployment for distribution of relief in the immediate aftermath.”

These activities include tracking the cyclone path with the latest updates from the Fiji Meteorological Service and mapping impacted communities (potential population and households affected) with the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, mapping post-disaster assessments with UNOSAT rapid mapping support, and producing on-demand GIS maps for routes taken by deployed teams.

Gaunavinaka says, “NDMO’s GIS team provides updates to the daily situational reports (SITREPs). For TC Ana, there was widespread flooding due to the intense and prolonged rainfall that followed. UNOSAT supported with a flood susceptibility map (using height above nearest drainage method), and this was also shared with government stakeholders”.

“There is a trend to use offline apps for capturing data by actors on the ground and later sync when there is internet connection. Now there is an active OpenStreetMap (OSM) Fiji community supported by the HOT’s Community Impact Microgrant running monthly mapathons to crowd-source information updating Fiji’s building outlines coverage of OSM. One can also find areas where there are data gaps in building outlines and where OSM mappers aim to focus on, from UNOSAT’s Data Quality Assessment Tool available from the DSS tool on the CommonSensing Platform,” she adds.

Based on the available data, users can benefit from understanding the overall risks their communities are prone to and what priority interventions can be deployed to reduce vulnerabilities and improve coping capacities.

 


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